Standing Room Only
Closing Night for Severance?
Early into last Friday’s status hearing we learned of a letter that Joe Price counsel Bernie Grimm had sent (also on behalf of his three defense team colleagues) to Judge Lynn Leibovitz.
Long described as one of the “great courtroom showmen,” DC’s very own George M. Cohan fired off this one-page letter on March 11, a day before the hearing.
Unlike the notices that have peppered the clerk’s office in recent weeks, this one had less to do with legal motions on discovery, testing, and procedures and far more to do with the staging of the trial, now scheduled to open on Monday, May 10
Anticipating they’ll outgrow the cramped confines of Leibovitz’ courtroom, #310, the Trouple’s Troupe wants a much larger stage for their performance and accompanying audio-visual exhibits.
Leibovitz addressed the issue briefly before setting it aside to turn to the other business of the day, but not before Grimm could underscore the request with one of his self-deprecating asides.
At the top of each hearing, the attorneys identify themselves, their understudies and their clients for the record. Dylan Ward’s counsel David Schertler introduced himself, colleague Robert Spagnoletti and their associate Veronica Jennings; Victor Zaborsky’s man Thomas Connolly spoke for himself and his colleague Amy Richardson. Alone, Grimm, who for years performed a one-man-show but is now with Cozen O’Connor, joked that, “The rest of my legal team couldn’t fit in this courtroom.”
There would be more cheeky chatter from Bernie later that afternoon, but let’s review his letter first. Reading between the lines we see some not so subtle foreshadowing: Curtains for those three motions to sever? Or maybe the hook.
In Grimm’s letter, he announced what he expected the trial’s cast to look like:
“Each defendant is actively represented by no less than two counsel. The Government is purporting to call no less than six to ten experts. The defendants, collectively, will call no less than 10 experts.”
The defense also plans to introduce a significant number of exhibits, many of which will require electronic equipment that will take up space beyond the parameters of a standard courtroom.
Presently, all counsel, defendants, their files and exhibits cannot fit inside a standard courtroom.”
Grimm also noted that, “The Government is not opposed to this request.”
As far as Grimm’s headcount of cast members when the trial opens, he neglected to mention many of the headliners expected on the bill: housemate Sarah Morgan, defendant Price’s brother Michael, the two EMTs, Dr. Lois Goslinoski, the many MPD officers and detectives and last but certainly not least, mystery witness “W-5.”
This sounds like a more than reasonable request, but what does this say about the motions to sever and ask for separate trials of the three defendants?
It seems that the defense is resigned to the fact that Judge Leibovitz will not rule in their favor. If the defense was aiming for single defendant hearings, why the need for a larger courtroom?
About an hour into last Friday’s hearing, Judge Leibovitz addressed the subject. She’ll inquire about a larger room but since, “…people senior to me have the big courtrooms,” all she can do is ask. Saucily, Grimm, noting her relative youth compared to her elderly Superior Court colleagues said, “Everyone in this courthouse is older than this Court.” More chuckles.
Schertler rose to expand on the request inquiring if an “electronic courtroom” might be available to accommodate his A/V needs. We learn that Superior Court Associate Judge Herbert Dixon’s courtroom is outfitted, but it may not up and running yet. Dixon, senior to Leibovitz by nearly 15 years may have earned the right for a wired courtroom, he graduated from Howard University with a degree in electrical engineering and serves on the ABA’s Panel on Technology.
AUSA Glenn Kirschner interjected, having played nearly every courtroom in Moultrie, saying that Dixon’s was, “…even smaller and more cramped.” Schertler was on his feet again and upped the request, he asked if a move across the street to the Federal Courthouse and use a room there as Superior Court Judge Henry Greene had recently done.
Leibovitz spurned Schertler out of hand: “I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to ask about that courtroom.” Federal Court? That’s like playing The Palace.
One wonders if this letter has been sitting on Cozen servers waiting for someone to hit ’send.’ The header on page 2 indicates the intended recipient is the case’s previous judge, Frederick Weisberg. He as they say, “went out with Mrs. Fiske.”
At the next status hearing on April 5, Judge Leibovitz may rule on the motions to sever. Many hours and thousands of dollars may have been billed towards those filings, but if she treats them anything like she did on the motion to dismiss, it will be S.R.O., Severance Rejected Outright.
-posted by Craig